How 'Fault in Our Stars' Mobilized Teens to Topple Tom Cruise (Analysis)

The Fault in Our Stars Woodley Elgort Dinner - H 2014
James Bridges/Twentieth Century Fox

The Fault in Our Stars Woodley Elgort Dinner - H 2014

Fueled by younger females, the YA film adaptation of John Green's wrenching novel about star-crossed lovers opened to $48.2 million, trouncing the $29.1 million North American debut of Cruise's pricey "Edge of Tomorrow."

When the newly installed marketing hierarchy at 20th Century Fox set out to sell The Fault in Our Stars, studio execs knew they had a powerful weapon at their disposal -- the desire of female tweens and teenagers to be part of the pack.

Over the weekend, the film adaptation of John Green's wrenching YA novel -- starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as young lovers who meet in a cancer recovery group -- opened to a stunning $48.1 million at the domestic box office, where it easily beat Tom Cruise's Edge of Tomorrow. The sci-fi Edge debuted to $29.1 million and cost $178 million-plus to make, compared to a modest $12 million spent by Elizabeth Gabler's Fox 2000 on The Fault in Our Stars.

According to exit surveys, females made up 82 percent of Fault's opening-weekend audience, while nearly 80 percent were under the age of 25 -- an almost unheard of number (that compares to 55 percent under the age of 25 for the first Twilight). And with 20 percent of the audience over the age of 25, the film did strike a chord with older females as well.

BOX OFFICE: 'Fault in Our Stars' Debuts to $48.2 Million 

Only half those buying tickets to see The Fault in Our Stars had read Green's book, pointing to Fox's successful effort to make the film a must-see.

"People who weren't necessarily interested in the book had to be a part of the movie. If you're a girl in high school, and 60 percent of your friends are talking about it, you are going to pay attention. You don't want to miss out," Fox domestic marketing chief Marc Weinstock said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

With more than 10 million copies in print, The Fault in Our Stars has been the biggest story in YA books since its publication in May 2012, residing more than 130 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, including the last 13 as No. 1. Green is a hero among his fans, but the movie's success was not guaranteed.

Weinstock, who arrived at the studio in January to work under newly elevated worldwide marketing and distribution co-presidents Paul Hanneman and Tomas Jegeus, said Fox successfully ignited interest beyond the book's fan base with the first extended trailer released in front of Woodley's other recent YA film, Divergent, which debuted in late April.

The trailer received more than 22 million views and is the most liked official trailer in the history of YouTube, according to Fox, while Fault in Our Stars is the most tweeted about movie of the year. Fault has received more than 3.8 million Twitter mentions, underscoring why much of Fox's marketing campaign was digital-centric, since the digital space is where younger consumers dwell.

Green, boasting 2.5 million Twitter followers and 2.1 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, played a key role in marketing the film, posting video blog posts from the set of the movie and offering his own perspective on the process.

The author, along with Woodley and Elgort, participated in a five-city Demand Our Star tour, which allowed fans to vote on Tumblr and have the trio visit their town in the days before the movie's release. (Crowds of 6,000 or more gathered in the winning locales.) Green also held a press day on YouTube and hosted a live concert on YouTube featuring the film's soundtrack artists, Ed Sheeran, Grouplove and CharliXCX. Later, Green and Fault director Josh Boone took part in a screening and Q&A that was simulcast into 16 Alamo Draft House theaters across the country.

"John Green is so tapped in. He's a rock star," noted Weinstock.

While most of the media attention has been focused on Fault's younger fan base, Weinstock and his team have been furiously working to target females between the ages of 18 and 34, a demo that showed increased interest in the days leading up to the film's opening. That included playing a two-minute trailer on select channels such as Lifetime, versus the traditional 30-second spot, so as to get the storyline across.

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"We had to make sure that every woman in this country knows about this movie and wants to see it," Weinstock said. "At the same time, we spent a half or a third on the usual television spend. That's the difference. We were very specific and measured in everything we did."

Outside of YA blockbuster franchises Twilight and The Hunger Games, YA film adaptations have largely struggled, including Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures and Vampire Academy. Divergent is an exception, grossing $267.1 million worldwide and launching a new franchise. The Fault in Our Stars is distinct in that it is a drama without fantasy elements.

Fault producers Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen are certainly no strangers at winning over females, having spearheaded the Twilight franchise for Summit Entertainment.

Finally, Fox engaged in the biggest book-to-film retail program in the studio's history in conjunction with Fault's release in paperback in early April. (Adding to the buzz was the novel's selection as NBC's Today show pick for its book club in May.)

The question now is how well The Fault in Our Stars will hold up, particularly with older females. "We want to keep that interest ignited," stated Weinstock, reminding us that women don't necessarily turn out opening weekend. "This is a very unique property."